Convocation Hall is an inevitable rite of passage for all students at U of T- whether it be those 1,200 student lectures, or the special moments of your graduation ceremony where you finally receive your hard-earned degree. Since each and every one of us has been or will be touched in some way by this building, the newspaper has decided to give a brief rundown of its history, and some interesting facts you may not know about our favorite rotundus lecture auditorium.


Photo Credit/ Jphillips23

The History

The building was constructed in 1907 by a firm called Pearson and Darling. As part of an expansion project that responded to the need for a larger ceremonial space, the Alumni Association raised funds to initiate the project and began construction in 1904. With a capacity of 1,731 seats and a total gross area of 4,347 square meters, the building was a significant expansion move for the university seeing as the then student population was approximately 4,000 students. Designed to stand as the epicenter of the university, Convocation Hall has been used for graduation ceremonies, events and lectures ever since that's 108 years to date!

The Architecture

Architect Frank Darling was inspired by the neoclassical style of mid-18th century Europe. Like others of the classical revival, he drew from both the Greek and Roman styles as evident in the prominent columns outside the front doors, the dome of the roof, the emphasis on symmetry and geometric elements, and the repetition of cohesive, uniform patterns throughout the building. The circularity of the design was meant to portray a sense of inclusiveness, and includes an oculus (or circular opening) made of copper and glass that lets in natural light from above.


The Modern Features

The efforts to upkeep a historic building can be sizable. One of Convocation Hall's most recent renovations occurred in 2006, where Toronto firm E. R. A. Architects led major upgrades including new lighting fixtures, accessible washrooms, new paint, refurbishing seats, and making upgrades to the large pipe organ on stage. Originally installed in 1911-1912, the pipe organ is the fifth largest in Toronto, and has a total of 4,000 pipes. In the 1980s the organ was computerized with a memory system which allowed the organist to preset the stops on the pipes. Other significant renovations include the year of 1997, where air conditioning was installed in the building much to the general relief of everyone who had to come to the building thereafter.

Significant People

Over the years, the building has operated as a social space for a variety of non-academic events, even being used as a set for film shoots. Bob Marley performed at Con Hall in 1976. Former Vice President of the USA Al Gore gave a lecture and screened his documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2007. That scene in Mean Girls where Lindsay Lohan's character goes to the Mathleates competition was shot in the auditorium and the parking lot outside. Significant guest lecturers and convocation addresses include filmmaker Michael Moore, politician Michael Ignatieff, activist Craig Kielburger, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, and journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell, among many others.

The Lecture Experience

Whether you like it or not, every first year in arts or science will very likely have the inevitable Convocation Hall location listed in their course schedule. You will experience the joy of sitting in classes with a professor so far away you can barely see them. They will speak to you from their microphone headset, clicking away at slides appearing on three giant projection screens above. There will be about twenty TA's looking on in their reserved front row seats. Try not to be overwhelmed by the hundreds of people sitting all around you, or peering ominously from the four storey balconies. In some ways, this can be reassuring. As the next slide changes, and ten thousand nimble fingers begin typing notes into their laptops (and the sound strangely, reminding you of a rainstorm), know that you are not alone. In your uncomfortable, creaky, table-less chairs, you are a part of the greater student experience, one known far and wide by almost every person who has been to U of T in its long history.

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